P sychedelic drugs are an intriguing potential therapy because they put the brain in a reflective dream-like state.
In recent years, three psychedelics — LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin (a natural compound found in some mushrooms), and ayahuasca (a brew made from vine and other ingredients in South America) — have captured researchers’ imagination for their therapeutic properties as they relate to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are not widely used, but there’s a movement to better understand how these and other psychedelic drugs can be used for medicinal purposes.
Taking psychedelics and dreaming both involve vivid imaginary experiences, activate emotional memories, and usually lead to elevated mood. They may also help retrieve frightening memories.
Both alter cognition: like reduced logic, increased creativity, seeing geometric shapes and experiencing abstract movements. And they lead to changes in one’s sense of self.
Both psilocybin and lucid dreams induce a similar pattern of fMRI brain activity which may explain why the experiences may be comparable.
As we understand more about these drugs, we might also get a better grasp on how dreams function.
Amitha Kalaichandran is a resident physician and health journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. Follow her on Twitter @DrAmithaK. Michael Natter is a resident physician and medical illustrator based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @Mike_Natter and on Instagram at @mike.natter.